By Dr. Will Tuttle
Recent events highlight the injustice and violence of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and gross economic inequity, which cause tremendous suffering in our world, and even within many social justice movements, including the vegan movement. How can we get to the roots of these issues, and what role does the accepted materialism of our society play in this? How can each of us contribute most effectively to cultural healing?
To meaningfully address these questions, we are called first of all to break the great taboo and pull back the curtain of denial, and doing so, to clearly recognize that all of us are born into an industrialized herding culture that is organized at its core around reducing beings to things. Billions of other animals are seen and treated as mere commodities that have no other purpose than to be imprisoned, fed, impregnated, used, and killed by us through an obsolete and hauntingly unquestioned food system. We are trained from infancy by our culture’s relentless meal rituals not just to eat the flesh and secretions of these abused animals, but to eat and embody the attitudes of this herding culture as well.
Herderism and Materialism
It’s vital to make an effort to understand how and why these foods are harmful to us and others, and further, to understand how and why these attitudes are unhealthy and destructive as well—though our indoctrination to these foods and attitudes is most definitely profitable for the elites controlling the military-industrial-meat-medical-pharmaceutical-media-banking complex. Meals are the foundational indoctrinating ritual in every culture, and the pervasive violence of our society against animals used for food and other products not only destroys their freedom, peace, and well-being, but also harms and reduces ours as well, in ways that are typically invisible and unrecognized.
We are forced from infancy to adopt a set of mutually reinforcing mentalities in order to participate in this defining activity of our culture. These mentalities include disconnectedness, desensitization, denial, exclusivism, elitism, domination of the feminine, reduction and commodification of living beings, predatory competitiveness, gullibility, and materialism.
Being ritually compelled to adopt these attitudes and to live and function within a society that routinely imprisons, attacks, and consumes millions of animals daily wounds us all deeply on many levels. However, the wounding is hidden, and, like the violence, is mostly invisible because it is pervasive, all-encompassing, and normalized. Fortunately, each of us can make an effort to understand this, and we can each, with help from others, undertake a journey of healing, and free ourselves from both the behavior of eating, purchasing, and causing unnecessary abuse to others, and also from the underlying attitudes that cause this unnecessary suffering not just to other animals, but to each other and to ourselves.
The Two-Part Journey of Healing
This journey of healing and awakening is the vegan journey, and it is in many ways the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to our world today. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that if we don’t, as a culture, take this healing journey to a more conscious and non-exploitive way of living, our industrialized violence will destroy the possibilities of a viable future for all of us.
It’s a two-part journey. The first part, freeing ourselves from the abusive behavior of purchasing and consuming animal-sourced foods, is relatively straightforward. The second part, freeing ourselves from the sticky web of interrelated attitudes injected into us by our herding culture, is more complex.
We have been herding animals now for about ten thousand years. It’s a practice that’s utterly obsolete, but it has insinuated its devastating tentacles not only into our planetary ecosystems and our culture, economy, and institutions, but also into our bodies, minds, feelings, and consciousness. Everything these tentacles touch, they damage, pervert, and destroy. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fish sticks, cheese, eggs, ham, tuna, chicken, yogurt, and ice cream are falsely portrayed as benevolent and required foods for us, when in fact they are completely malevolent and unnecessary. Animal agriculture and animal-sourced foods are destroying our health, our society, our ecosystems and other animals, and they also insidiously damage the landscape of our consciousness.
Being born into a herding culture, and into the exploitive structure of corporate capitalism that herderism has inevitably generated, injures us all from infancy. We all know in our bones that we are products of our communities and culture, and that the only reason any of us eats animal-sourced foods is because we are following orders that have been injected into us by our parents, families, and by every institution and tradition in our society. It is anything but a free choice.
With ten thousand years of practice in the attitudes required to herd animals, we have now unfortunately thoroughly incorporated the delusions of herderism into our worldview, to our detriment, and we have obediently passed these traditional delusions from generation to generation. In doing so, we have passed on herderism’s inexorably accompanying furies as well: war, slavery, exploitation of the feminine, the macho male role-model for boys, a wealthy elite class, racism and other forms of social injustice, poverty, disease, hunger, anxiety, competition, and disconnectedness from animals and from nature.
The sprawling and traumatizing delusion of herderism can be summed in one word: materialism. The defining educational practice of our culture is teaching us from infancy to harden our gaze, and to see certain beings as mere matter: as nothing more than physical objects, like sacks of cement. All of us, whatever our race, gender, orientation, or class happen to be, are ritually wounded by our cultural food program, compelled to mentally transform someones into somethings. We participate, buy, and eat cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, geese, fishes, and other animals by their material weight. Their value is determined by the mass of the flesh on their physical bodies, and by the secretions and offspring they can produce for their owners. For us, they are mere material objects to be consumed. Our culture’s food rituals numb us into believing this patent falsehood.
After practicing this extreme form of materialistic and ritualized delusion for ten thousand years, generation upon generation, meal upon meal, bite upon bite, we have drifted farther than any culture ever has from the basic wisdom of connecting with and respecting life—both our own and others. We have become a thoroughly materialistic culture in the deep sense that materialism is, philosophically, the attitude and way of seeing and acting that reduces everything to matter. Not only are other animals reduced to being mere physical objects that are born and die, but we are taught to see ourselves and each other, and all life, this way as well. This delusion of materialism pervades our unjust economic system, as well as our reductionist science, religion, and education, and all our institutions. It devastates not just animals and ecosystems, but also our inherent wisdom, compassion, and well-being.
Veganism is the struggle to free ourselves from this delusion of materialism, and to see beings as beings, rather than as objects to be used. This awakening from materialism is a challenging endeavor, liberating our awareness and thus liberating animals and all of us by helping us regain our ability to see beings as subjects rather than objects. Opening our hearts and unblinding our eyes, we respectfully release other animals to once again celebrate their lives in the natural world as they are intended, and as they did for millions of years before we began to steal their freedom, and imprison and commodify them. This awakening also helps liberate us from our cages as well: the persistent and unrecognized cages of injustice and delusion. We can respectfully release other people from indoctrinated mental categories based on race, gender, and so forth, and this helps free us from the delusions underlying injustice. As we open our minds and question our culture’s narrative of abuse, we take the journey to overhaul not just our outer behavior, but also our underlying attitudes, assumptions, and way of being.
Veganism is nothing to be proud of because it is not so much an accomplishment as it is an ongoing process of questioning, and of recognition, realization, remembering, and of returning home to the ever-present wisdom and grace that have been taken from us. When we see beings, we naturally see beings, not things—and relate to them as such, with respect. Veganism is no big deal, really; it’s our natural vision, increasingly liberated from the hijacking influence of our culture’s toxic herderism. Yet it is an ongoing endeavor of enormous consequence also, because vegan living is a liberating adventure of questioning the official narratives both externally as well as the aspects that we have internalized.
Deep Veganism: The Antidote to Herderism and Materialism
Now we get to the real issues we face as vegans, which are connected to the wounds that we have all endured by being born and raised in a herding culture of materialism that treats beings as things and indoctrinates all of us into this mind-set. What gives veganism its power is that it’s solidly practical and behavioral, and as praxis, it also has a theoretical and internal dimension as well. As concrete behavior, it’s an effort to minimize the violence toward animals flowing from our actions, so we eat, wear, and use no foods, products, or services that depend on human abuse of other animals, including human animals. Internally, vegan living is a journey of healing as we work our way out of the toxic brambles of materialism and reductionism, and recognize the beauty of other expressions of life, and regain our natural human yearning to protect and care for what we value and appreciate.
As our heart and mind both open, we begin to see that, while the outer expression of veganism in our patterns of consuming is certainly important and helpful, there is much more to veganism than boycotting industries and products. We begin to see that vegan living is rejecting the delusion of materialism that is often internalized in our unconscious assumptions, and that it calls us to realize that all life is a manifestation of consciousness that is, essentially, infinite, benevolent, joyful, and eternal.
What this means in practice is that we take the journey to deep veganism, questioning and transforming not only the materialism of our outer actions, but also the philosophical materialism that has been injected into our consciousness by the herderism of our culture. As vegans we move to a plant-based way of eating and living for ethical reasons, to promote justice, compassion, freedom, and health for animals, for hungry people, for workers, for ecosystems and wildlife, and for future generations of all beings. We do this mindfully, and while our organic, whole-food plant-based way of eating and living benefits our health and happiness, it also helps and uplifts everyone.
As our awareness continues to expand, we realize that the only person we can change and liberate is ourself, and that the way to be an effective vegan advocate is to strive to ever more deeply understand ourselves and to uproot the materialist and reductionist tendencies that still remain in our consciousness, that bind us in dualism, and that generate our tendency to blame, judge, exclude, and criticize others, and to see others as the problem.
Deep veganism is an ongoing process of maturing emotionally and existentially beyond the indoctrinated and materialist view of trying to change other people, and recognizing that this manipulative effort is a form of violence that is based in the materialist delusion that we are essentially a separate self, an object that was born and will die, and that others are as well. This delusion propels us try to maneuver other people into changing. It also pushes us to try to find ways to effectively market this vegan message to others as if veganism is a mere commodity that we are packaging for consumption. With deep veganism, we realize that efforts to manipulate others to change in a way that we want them to, and arguing with or criticizing or blaming them, run contrary to the spirit of inclusiveness and respect that is the essence of vegan living. We realize that we’ve been vegan in our outer appearance, but internally we’re still trapped in the shallows of the materialist herder delusion of separateness, exclusiveness, and manipulativeness. Veganism is a call from our true nature to radical questioning of virtually all of the assumptions of our cultural programming. It is a call from our future and more evolved awareness to remember that there is no way to spread veganism, which is love, kindness, and respect, other than embodying love, kindness and respect for all animals including human animals. The path is the goal.
With deep veganism, we become more effective in our advocacy because we begin to understand herderism and that through well-meaning but injured parents, relatives, and authorities, we’ve all been wounded. This helps us deepen our compassion for everyone. We see more clearly that forcing infants and children to eat the flesh and secretions of abused animals is a pervasive and culturally approved form of child abuse on several levels. First of all, it causes us as children tremendous physical suffering in the form of sore throats, earaches, obesity, diabetes, constipation, and many other conditions. But the abuse we endure runs to much deeper levels than this.
When as children we realize what hot dogs and bacon actually are, a cold darkness enters our chest. Our natural sense of kindness toward other animals is crushed under the weight of the overwhelmingly pervasive, inescapable, relentless, and hypnotically ignored cultural practice of heartless killing and eating, and we are thrown forever out of the garden of kindness, innocence, self-esteem, and harmony. What we refer to in The World Peace Diet as Sophia, the inner sacred feminine dimension of consciousness that naturally yearns to love and protect life, is stomped on and repressed by the harsh and inexorable violence of herderism. We know, and we eat this profoundly disturbing knowing every day, that there is no compassion or justice for other animals. The devastating effects of this daily reality—that we are ritually compelled by those we trust implicitly to both eat and cause violence with every meal—cannot be overstated.
Our entire culture is, in many ways, modeled on a farm where we, as newborn infants, are treated like calves on a dairy, as exploitable commodities in a heartless economic system. Like the calves we are not allowed to bond with our mothers properly. We have foods and pharmaceutical injections forced on us that are not in our interest but are advantageous to our exploiters, and we enter a system of intense social and economic competition where we are seen as objects, and are taught to see ourselves and other people in the same way, as competitors, as different, and as instruments to be manipulated and used. We are forced to eat foods of embedded terror, despair, and anxiety. Our natural sense of kinship with other animals (and ultimately with each other) is fractured as we dine on their misery.
Our capacity for sensitivity and intuition is repressed as we undergo the emotional numbing that herderism requires, and our sense of celebrating our lives in an essentially benevolent and loving atmosphere is compromised if not completely shattered. With deep veganism, we grow to understand how all of us have been psychologically wounded by being born into this herding culture’s violent and materialistic way of living, and through this understanding, we reawaken our compassion not just for animals but also for other wounded people. As this happens, our tendency toward prejudice, blame, criticism, and trying to change others dissolves into a deeper yearning to show them love and respect, and to help them take the journey of healing that we are in the process of taking. A new sense of respect informs our advocacy efforts, and while we are still keenly aware of the misery and abuse inflicted by animal agriculture and the actions of indoctrinated and wounded people, we are grateful for the opportunity that we have daily to learn more, grow, and contribute our unique gifts to bring healing to our world.
We can realize that, because we are all wounded by our culture’s herderism and pervasive materialistic assumptions, we can cultivate a sense of solidarity with other people and a sense of compassion and understanding for them, even though they may be acting in ways with which we disagree. We see that the perpetrators are also victims. Hurt people hurt others. We all need healing and healing comes from love. Disrespect cannot heal disrespect; only respect and love can heal. The most effective contribution I can make is the effort to heal my consciousness, so that I am ever more authentically living the truth of veganism, which is kindness and understanding for all beings, including other human beings and myself.
Effective Advocacy as Self Awareness and Self-Liberation
The movement to liberate animals is the movement to liberate ourselves. This is the liberation movement that goes to the essential root of all our many problems, injustices, and crises, which is herderism, the mentality of materialism. It requires us to question the old dualistic way we have engaged in social campaigns—that we are right and they are wrong—and to honor the deeper truth that we share similar wounds and in healing them in ourselves, we help others to heal them in themselves.
It seems that a vegan movement is developing that is based increasingly on this understanding. As we take responsibility for changing the one being we each can change, we create a new foundation for embodying vegan values of respect for all. As more of us question the official story of materialism and strive to embody deep veganism, we are creating an unstoppable movement that will positively transform our world. Undertaking the challenging inner work to more fully embody the presence of loving understanding, we will attract and motivate others to take the same journey.
What is this inner work? Essentially, it is the practice of cultivating mindfulness and inner listening. Just as we’ve been relentlessly programmed by our culture, we’re called to be relentless in our effort to free ourselves from this conditioning. A regular and unrelenting inner practice of meditative openness, and of questioning the inner stories, concepts, and ongoing internal dialogue can liberate consciousness to glimpse its true nature. Through cultivating receptive awareness and inner stillness, we can realize that our consciousness is essentially free, pure, and vast, like the clear and unencumbered sky. Through this, we can see more clearly the clouds of conditioned thought and habit as they appear, and that we are not these clouds; we are the space of awareness in which they arise and to which they return. We see that we are not things nor are others ever things. We can discover directly the deeper truth that we are all manifestations of eternal consciousness, and the blinding spell of materialism and herderism begins to dissolve. Our relationship with ourself, and with other expressions of life is transformed. The roots of speciesism, racism, and other delusions are recognized as the programming of herderism’s materialist delusion, and as they dissolve we naturally see with new eyes and new hearts.
Veganism is far more than working for the rights of other animals. It calls us to a complete social transformation through transforming our attitudes, assumptions, and relationships at the deepest level. It’s the adventure of a lifetime to awaken our awareness and ever more deeply live the truth of our interconnectedness with all life. We can transform ourselves, and this transforms our advocacy efforts so that, in Walt Whitman’s words, “I and mine do not convince by arguments. We convince by our presence.” It’s not so much what we say; it’s how we say it and how congruent we are in manifesting the message we are conveying.
As individuals and as a movement, as we increase our capacity to embody veganism as kindness and respect for other human animals, our movement will become itself the change we’d like to see in the world, dramatically increasing our effectiveness. We will plant seeds of positive change in others with every word, intonation, and gesture, and, awakened from the dualistic materialism of herderism, others will change without our trying to change them. The heart of the vegan movement is education, and authentic education is self-discovery that takes place in a context of trust and respect. As vegans, our main effort is to embody veganism, connect with our intuitive wisdom, and let that guide our actions and interactions. From this can flow a profusion of campaigns, films, restaurants, books, blogs, websites, products, sanctuaries, music, art, and grassroots educational efforts that all embody the vegan message. As we let go of being attached to the fruits of our actions, we free others and ourselves. Not trying to change others, but to respect and understand, we become the space of authentic change and instigate it by sharing our experience, example, and insights. Ironically, this is what helps create lasting and empowering change in others. It also frees us as advocates from burnout, anger, and despair.
As vegans, we are most effective in our advocacy as we recognize this and inspire others through respectfully sharing our stories and perspectives, and healing herderism’s materialism within our consciousness and within our way of communicating and relating. As love, joy, and gratitude increasingly inform our thoughts, words, and actions, we naturally plant seeds of veganism wherever we go. The vegan (r)evolution of kindness, inclusion, and healing calls us to take the ongoing inner steps to deepen our veganism. Through this effort, we will become the people who can co-create the fundamental social and personal transformation that our positive future is calling from us.
Buckminster Fuller emphasized that the way to a positive future is not through fighting against an abusive and inefficient system or situation. Rather, it is to build an alternative that reflects the harmony, freedom, and integrity that we envision, and that naturally renders the existing system obsolete. Veganism is not merely a critique of a violent and outmoded system; it is living an inner and outer alternative that is nutritious, delicious, sustainable, healing, liberating, and positively transformational on every level. Each of us can contribute to it with our unique abilities and insights, and help heal the foundation of our relationships with the Earth, with other animals, and with each other.
The vegan wave is building and is irresistible because it is our true nature calling. May our words and example instigate the benevolent revolution that liberates animals and all of us from the herding delusion of materialism, healing our hearts so that we discover our purpose and celebrate our lives as we are intended to on this bountiful and beautiful Earth.
(For information about Dr. Tuttle’s online training in effective vegan advocacy.)
By Dr. Will Tuttle
One of the most persistent ethical and social dilemmas in our culture is the abortion issue, yet rarely do we make the critical connections between our culture’s routine exploitation and abuse of other animals and our ongoing struggle with this abortion issue. It is an aspect of what I refer to in The World Peace Diet as the boomerang effect: the abuse we inflict on animals inevitably returns to haunt and harm us, but we typically fail to trace the consequences of our actions to their source.
Animal agriculture is not merely humans exploiting other animals; it is and always has been, more specifically and accurately, male humans exploiting female animals. The two defining practices of animal agriculture are killing them and routinely sexually abusing the females: impregnating them against their will and stealing their babies. Violence begets violence, and our relentless and deliberate killing and raping of millions of other animals daily has profound consequences not just for the unfortunate beings who are the victims of our actions, but also for us as perpetrators.
We are all born into a culture that forces us from infancy to participate in mealtime rituals that require us to pay for and eat products that require viciously violating the sacred and celebratory forces of sexuality, birth, and the nurturing caring of motherhood. What are the consequences of this systematic and unrecognized abuse? Given the ever-increasing devastation caused by our attitudes, actions, and technologies on our world and each other, we are called more than ever to understand these typically hidden connections.
For example, we have the dairy industry. Our infants and children are routinely forced to drink milk intended for baby cows, and to eat products made from this milk. Cow milk is naturally toxic to humans for
many obvious reasons, because we are not calves who will put on 600 pounds in the first year of our life. Besides the acidifying and inflammatory casein and other milk proteins, the high fat content, the carcinogenic IGF-1 growth factor, and the pesticide and other toxic residues that concentrate in dairy products, there are the bovine hormones.
From the perspective of our human abortion issue, the naturally occurring estrogen in cow milk is a fundamental driving factor. Cow estrogen and human estrogen are molecularly identical, and when we as children consume dairy products, especially cheese, ice cream, and other high-fat products (because hormones ride in fat), we consume unnaturally high levels of estrogen, and it is well-established that this bovine estrogen pushes us as young girls into early sexual maturity. It is certainly not healthy for us as boys to have all this unnatural estrogen flowing through our systems either, and the consequences could be worse and more complex than just the “boobs” that some boys get. However, for us as girls, we find that we are inhabiting a body that is fully sexually mature, complete with sexual drives and the capacity to give birth, at an age when we are still too young mentally and emotionally to deal with all that this requires of us.
The average age of menarche, of first menstruation, instead of being seventeen as it was in the mid-nineteenth century, is now 12.5 years. This was made startlingly clear in Japan after World War II, where in the space of just one or two generations after dairy products were introduced there, the average age of menarche went from 15.2 to 12.5.[i] According to researcher Kerrie Saunders, “Both African villages and the Chinese have retained many of their dietary traditions of eating plant-based foods, and they both average an onset of female puberty at seventeen years of age.”[ii] The unnaturally early menarche in our culture causes untold anguish, with unnecessary teen pregnancies, abortion dilemmas and debates, and unnatural physical, psychological, and social stress that is simply a result of pushing our girls into sexual maturity too early, just as we do to the young cow slaves on the dairy.
In addition to surreptitiously generating the high levels of abortions in our society by forcing our young girls into unnaturally early sexual maturity, the dairy industry also engages in violent abortion procedures as part of its routine operation. On any dairy operation, organic or not, newborn calves are immediately stolen from their mothers, causing terrible grief, anxiety, and despair to both. I have heard the desperate wails of cows for their calves that pierce the night unremittingly for hours at a time. These mothers are immediately re-impregnated against their will on what the industry calls the “rape rack” and after nine months, she delivers another calf, who like the first will be immediately stolen from her. This happens an average of four times, with three of the calves being killed either immediately as useless, or after a few months for veal, or after two years if used for beef. One will be kept as a slave to replace her mother on the dairy. At this point the mother cow is physically exhausted, having endured the unnatural trauma of being pregnant and lactating simultaneously for four pregnancies, and even though she’s only about five to six years old and would live naturally about 25 years, she is sent off to slaughter to be used for cheap hamburger.
However, the dairy industry isn’t through with her. It is common practice to impregnate her one last time, and send her to slaughter when she is about eight months pregnant or so, for the extra profit that her unborn fetus can bring at the slaughter-plant. So after hanging her upside down and slitting her throat so that she dies by the slow and painful death of being bled out, workers cut her open and perform a late-term abortion, stabbing her unborn calf because of the extra profit this calf brings to the industry in three ways. First, the skin of unborn calves can be used to make fine leather that fetches a higher price. Second, the stomachs of these unborn calves have already started to produce rennin, the hormone substance that we don’t have that breaks down the main protein in cow milk, casein, and this rennin is used by the cheese industry to coagulate milk to make cheese. Third, the pharmaceutical industry wants to use the “fetal bovine serum” that is in the calf’s heart and circulatory system for their vaccines, and so workers insert a long needle into the beating heart of the calf to extract this substance, before slitting his or her throat.
Why don’t we hear any protests against the grisly abortions happening around the clock at slaughter plants because of our continued appetite for dairy products? Why no outcry against the violence of forcing our girls into early menarche, considering the pain and trauma this causes them and their families and our society? As we sow, we reap. How can we expect that we are worthy as a culture to be free of abortion and its devastating effects when we force millions of sentient beings into abortions against their will?
The abortion issue is, at is roots, the byproduct of a society that does not honor the sacred feminine aspects of life. At is living core, our herding culture is organized around enslaving and killing animals at an industrial scale, and thus all of us are injected from infancy with participatory attitudes that reduce our natural intelligence and sense of respect for life. Animal agriculture requires men to view females as mere breeders, reducing them to objects to be used as baby-making machines, for the profit and pleasure of their exploiters. Thus we find ourselves in a competitive and disconnected society that reduces our sensitivity and compassion for animals and for each other. This reduces the sacred feminine wisdom in all of us that is the foundation of the nurturing, strong, and loving family life that would protect and nurture our children, youth, and all of us so that abortion would be a non-issue. Destroying the families of other animals on a massive scale, dishonoring their sacred mother-child bond, and reducing them to lone units of production in a heartless economic system, we find our families and bonding similarly broken down and ourselves similarly reduced, and saddled with abortion dilemmas that arise inevitably from this and from our culture’s lack of supportive attitudes toward women and our loss of nurturing family and relationship networks.
The deep structure of our animal-enslaving culture wounds us all, training us from infancy to view other beings as things to be used and from this, the abortion issue (and many others) inevitably arises. There is a lasting solution to the abortion issue and that is to question the violence on our plates and as individuals to go vegan and strive to embody vegan values of justice, kindness, and respect for all animals, both human and nonhuman, and to share these ideas with others through our example and efforts.
Evolving toward a vegan culture is the way to access and heal the roots of our many struggles with war, violence, and injustice. All animal agriculture requires imprisoning and sexually abusing other animals, and their interests and suffering are to them as significant as ours are to us. This is the unyielding dilemma that we can no longer ignore. Our future, if we are to have one, will be vegan.
[i] Kagawa, Y., “Impact of Westernization on the Nutrition of Japanese: Changes in Physique, Cancer, Longevity, and Centenarians,” Preventive Medicine, 7 (1978), pp. 205–217. Cited in Saunders, The Vegan Diet as Chronic Disease Prevention, (New York: Lantern Books, 2003), p. 137.
[ii] Saunders, The Vegan Diet as Chronic Disease Prevention, p.137.
Dr. Will Tuttle
The budding and blossoming vegan movement in South Africa, as in Dubai, is crucial for the future of both humans and animals, as well as ecosystems and future generations, not just in these two countries, but on our planet. Everything is interconnected. We are grateful to the many people who are working hard to raise awareness and exemplify the vegan teachings of caring and respect for all creation.
How is the vegan movement faring in challenging environments, such as the Moslem culture of the United Arab Emirates and the post-Apartheid society of South Africa? In this second and final part of our exploration (click here for part one), we’ll look at our recent visit to South Africa where we spent two weeks working with local advocates to share the vegan message.
When we arrived in South Africa from Dubai, we went from living on the 31st floor of a post-modern urban high-rise to living with the rescued pigs and geese of Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary nestled in the spectacular mountains and valleys northeast of Cape Town. It was inspiring to meet the local vegan activists in Greyton, one of whom, Rohan Millson, had taken our World Peace Diet Facilitator Training five years earlier in Cincinnati, and has just published an encyclopedic book on the health benefits of veganism, Why Animals Aren’t Food. His book is the result of five years of dedicated research and writing and is a definitive and thorough response to the many arguments we vegans hear that promote low-carb diets and eating animal foods.
Besides supporting a small vegan restaurant and the vegan animal sanctuary, the town of Greyton is also the only town in Africa that is officially recognized as a Transition Town by the Transition Town Movement, which is a global movement encouraging towns and cities to be more sustainable and self-sufficient regarding food, water, and energy. As part of their ongoing work to develop their Transition Town status, the residents of Greyton, led by Nicola Vernon, the proprietor of the sanctuary and the restaurant, have received a grant from Humane Society International to teach vegan nutrition, gardening, and foraging in the local schools. The main teacher of these skills is a young local African man named Marshall, and hearing about the inspiring success of his work with local children and their creation of school gardens to provide the community with organic foods was one of the highlights of our time in South Africa.
It’s disturbing to witness the extreme disparity between the moneyed class, primarily white, and the vast shantytowns where tens of thousands of native Africans live in extreme poverty, over-crowdedness, and crime. Finding ways of bringing the vegan message not just to the wealthier segments of South Africa, but also to the indigenous people is an important challenge, and Marshall’s successful work with his own people was for us a shining example of seeds of a more positive future for South Africa being planted with love and awareness.
Besides giving a public lecture in Greyton, we also facilitated a two-day World Peace Diet training workshop there where we were able to learn and share more deeply with local vegan advocates, all of whom impressed us with their openness and commitment to facilitating positive change. One, Brett Bard, a vegan veterinarian from the town of Prince Albert, is committed to creating a vegan education center there, for example. It was refreshing both to spend time with these activists and to experience the beauty of rural South Africa, with breaks to swim and hike in the canyons surrounding Greyton.
Then it was off to Cape Town, the epicenter of vegan living in South Africa, and we were swept up in a whirlwind of media interviews and meetings with passionate vegan activists. Our first stop was Plant, the new and popular vegan restaurant. From there we participated in a heart-touching tree-planting ceremony with Anglican Bishop Geoff Davies, known as the “Green Bishop of Cape Town” for his outspoken writings on behalf of protecting ecosystems. The following evening we stayed in the countryside north of Cape Town with the founder of Plant restaurant, an energetic triathlete, and then returned the next day to Cape Town to climb Lions’ Head and enjoy the spectacular views, and also visited the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where we saw many of the indigenous trees, plants and flowers of South Africa. That evening we presented a lecture at the Ubuntu Wellness Centre, a local holistic center promoting vegan living, and it was packed to standing room only. I had given two newspaper interviews, as well as one national TV interview over the prior two days, and these had helped to get the vegan word out to the South African community.
For the next two days, we put on the second World Peace Diet training at the Ubuntu Centre in Cape Town, and it was inspiring getting to know the local activists. Ian and Dawn MacFarland, the founders of Ubuntu, were unstinting in their efforts to arrange and promote the events in the Cape Town area, and are local leaders in the vegan movement, helping to introduce the multiple benefits of vegan living to the local population through their holistic health center, as well as through public education events such as the ones we put on with them together. We also appreciated spending time with Andi Brand and Sven Fautley, two well-known local activists who have started the “VeloVegans” which is their name for their vegan outreach that features them bicycling throughout Africa with brightly colored costumes on, and sharing the vegan message as they go. They have also gone through the World Peace Diet training and are pioneers in the vegan movement in South Africa.
On Saturday morning, we flew to Durban and met André Rutishauser, another inspiring vegan activist who created the vegan restaurant in Durban, “Conscious Café,” where we had lunch. André is also the captain of one of the Sea Shepherd ships which is now on a campaign to protect fisheries off the coast of Nigeria. That evening we presented a well-attended lecture in Durban sponsored by the Vegan Society of South Africa and coordinated by its president Anna Jordan and the next morning we flew to the tiny town of Hoedspruitt near Kruger National Park for a three-day stay at the famous White Lion Protection Trust in Timbavati.
Founded by Linda Tucker, the author of Saving the White Lions and several other books about the mysterious white lions of South Africa, this wildlife preserve of 4,400 acres is home to the endangered white lions as well as many other animals such as wildebeests, elands, kudus, oryx, springboks, waterbucks, impalas, hippos, warthogs, caracals and many spectacular birds. Over the next three days we had the opportunity to view all these animals in the wild multiple times, and also to get to know the other vegans who gathered to be with us at this wildlife sanctuary, Dawn and Ian Macfarlane from the Ubuntu center in Cape Town, and Miki Haimovich and Adit Romano, well-known vegan advocates from Tel Aviv, Israel. We were also joined by Andrea Contri and Wynter Worsthorne, respected animal communicators from Italy and Johannesburg, respectively. This beautiful interlude where we had time to relax in the South African wilderness and see and hear the animals all around us gave a deeper appreciation for the plight of wildlife in Africa. We were surrounded, in the bigger picture, by farms, ranches and canned-hunting preserves, all of which are decimating the populations of wild animals in Africa. The most severe devastation is wrought by the spread of animal agriculture because as more people eat meat and dairy, more land is cleared for livestock feed and grazing, and the free-living animals, including elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, leopards, and others, are ruthlessly killed as pests, and are disappearing as their habitat shrinks dramatically.
On Wednesday morning we took a shuttle to Johannesburg and arriving in the late afternoon, prepared for our final lecture event in South Africa hosted by the hard-working and enthusiastic members of the Johannesburg Vegan Society. The president, Paul Palmer, did an exemplary job organizing the event with lots of help from local activists, and with the full-capacity attendance, abundant vegan refreshments, and hospitable accommodations with local Johannesburg vegan advocates, it was a memorable finale to our enlightening and inspiring sojourn in South Africa. We were also able to squeeze in this interview with Dr. Paul Palmer, with the delightful bird calls, including the South African Hadeda (Ibis) in the background to remind us of the other animals with whom we share this Earth.
The budding and blossoming vegan movement in South Africa, as in Dubai, is crucial for the future of both humans and animals, as well as ecosystems and future generations, not just in these two countries, but on our planet. Everything is interconnected. We are grateful to the many people who are working hard to raise awareness and exemplify the vegan teachings of caring and respect for all creation.
Though there is enormous inertia to overcome, and the devastating effects of animal agriculture and of our herding culture are painful to witness, the enthusiasm and creativity of our fellow advocates in Dubai and in South Africa—and throughout the world—give us renewed encouragement to continue living, sharing, and celebrating the vegan message of justice and respect for all life.
Dr. Will Tuttle
How is the vegan movement faring in challenging environments, such as the Islamic culture of the United Arab Emirates and the post-Apartheid society of South Africa? From our recent experience visiting these two countries and working with local advocates to help propagate the vegan message there, inspiring progress is being made in spite of the often severe resistance offered by prevailing cultural attitudes. In both countries, we experienced the significant effect that small groups of dedicated activists can have on the larger society.
In Dubai, for example, where we stayed for ten days with a local vegan advocate, we could see the budding vegan movement gathering momentum
rapidly in spite of the impediments inherent in the underlying culture. Dubai is the largest city in the U.A.E., and has virtually exploded in just the past twenty years as the most ultra-modern city in the world, and is city of superlatives, with the world’s highest building, largest shopping mall, and grandest indoor ski “mountain” with chairlift. About ninety percent of the people living in Dubai are expatriates, drawn there by the economic opportunities, primarily from the surrounding Islamic countries, but also from India and to a lesser extent Europe and North America.
As you can imagine, Dubai is a swirl of cultural currents that provides liberating opportunities for many of the residents, and we found a young and vibrant vegan community there, with a large and well-stocked organic food store, a high-quality organic vegan restaurant, and three major vegan meet-up groups. While most of the people who attended our lectures and gatherings were not traditional Muslims, some of them were, and there seems to be a genuine interest building among these people, especially for the health benefits of plant-based eating, as well as the increasingly recognized environmental benefits, especially for a city plunked in the midst of desolate desert. Compassion for animals is increasingly being recognized as a motivating factor also.
I spoke at length with a non-vegetarian Muslim who informed me that it is considered a duty, especially for men, to sacrifice with their own hands a goat or sheep at least once a year as part of their faith, and that while it might be possible for Muslims to be vegan, they are like people who call themselves Catholics but don’t attend mass. We also met a vegetarian woman who had been, at one point earlier in her life, completely doused by her brother with kerosene to be burned alive for breaking one of the Islamic laws, and had thankfully escaped. We were glad to see her and other people in Dubai questioning violence toward animals and making some of the basic connections between oppression of women and of animals. Additionally, we had the opportunity to spend a beautiful day with a South African airline pilot who is a pillar of the vegan community. He brought us on a snorkeling and dolphin-watching cruise to the fabled Straits of Hormuz in the neighboring Sultanate of Oman where we saw many young men heading out to risk their lives in small boats, smuggling goods under cover of darkness across the gulf to Iran.
Like the next country we would be visiting, South Africa, U.A.E. has exceptionally high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and the other illnesses of high-volume animal food consumption, and there is a refreshing wave of progressive advocacy there that is working to raise consciousness. Given the cultural milieu, though, vegan advocates emphasized to us that they have to be always mindful in their efforts and tread lightly and carefully in the way they bring the vegan message to the larger society. The U.A.E., like other Islamic countries, is emphatically not a democracy, but like in any society, real positive change happens at the grass roots level, beginning, as Gandhi emphasized, with committed individuals and their efforts to educate, understand, and share their insights.
In Part Two (click here) we’ll have a look at our experiences in South Africa, just following this time in Dubai, where we spent two weeks working with local advocates to share the vegan message and explore both the cultural and natural landscape there.